[size=36]109 missiles have targeted US forces in Iraq since October ... behind the scenes after the Iranian strike[/size]
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"Coming, Coming!", Almighty warning over a loudspeaker about a missile attack on "Union 3", the US-led coalition base in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
The complex is located in the Green Zone, an area built around what was the palace of former President Saddam Hussein.
A few seconds after the first warning, we heard two loud explosions, and then another announcement, ordering everyone at the base to take shelter in the shelters.
The US embassy is across the road, and is the potential target of the three Katyusha rockets.
An hour later, we were informed that it was safe and we could get out. One of the rockets landed in the nearby Tigris River, and two rockets were inside the embassy compound.
"This is not the first and it will not be the last," says Bari, (a 42-year-old civilian woman who lives and works at the base as a hairdresser to support her daughters in her Kyrgyz country).
Barry was working at the American base in the Afghan capital, Kabul, but she quit working there because the situation was very dangerous.
Everyone told her that she would live a quieter life in Baghdad, but two rockets hit the street near the embassy on her first night there.
A watershed moment
since October 2019, more than 109 Katyusha rockets have been fired at locations where U.S. forces are in Iraq.
The coalition says the paramilitary groups are carrying out the attacks.
Then came the killing of the United States by General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Quds Force, at Baghdad Airport on January 3.
Iran's response was five days after a missile attack on bases where US forces are in Iraq.
These attacks led to the adoption of new security rules in all coalition bases that include US forces in Iraq.
Any activities outside the base are now prohibited, and anyone walking in the open should wear protective gear, from sunset to early morning.
I accompanied the US military and moved to their bases across Iraq while coalition forces were fighting against ISIS.
Reassure me and tell me that it is not necessary to wear protective shields inside the vehicles because the area is safe. But the "Union 3" base in Baghdad was far more empty than the last time I was here.
Several coalition forces, including NATO (NATO) soldiers, were transferred to Kuwait. The officials told me that the soldiers will return when the threat level decreases.
Relationships are strained,
but there are greater and deeper developments felt by US military officers in Iraq since the Iranian attack. Union 3 is the headquarters of the Iraqi forces and the leadership of the coalition forces in their campaign against ISIS.
When I was here last time, both American and Iraqi officers were keen to show the depth of the relationship between the two parties at both the professional and personal levels of the media. Both sides are keen to talk to the cameras about their common goal, which is to defeat the organization.
Now, coalition leaders are reluctant to appear in front of the cameras, and recent developments have cast a shadow over what has been a "great friendship".
The deputy chief of the crowd, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was also killed in the air strike targeting General Soleimani.
Interestingly, he was at this very base in the Green Zone of Baghdad just two days before his death.
He was here to meet with the senior Iraqi army officers, the same leaders who are partners with the United States in the battle against the organization.
The photo of the engineer can be seen on the wall alongside other Iraqi military leaders in the same corridor that coalition officials may pass daily.
Behind the scenes,
two senior coalition officials at Union Union 3 told me that they only knew of the operation that targeted Soleimani in the morning when they checked their phones.
"If there is a process that you do not need to know, you will not be informed of," said a senior coalition official, who asked not to be identified.
"It doesn't matter if you have to experience its consequences."
In fact, the night Soleimani and his motorcade were bombed, US aircraft operators operating outside the Baghdad base initially thought that there was a missile attack on the diplomatic center at the airport where most coalition diplomats and intelligence officers are located. He was targeted a few days before the assassination.
When they saw the fire after the explosion, they assumed that it was caused by an airstrike by a pilot plane, because the missiles would not cause this type of fire, but they were not sure who had done it.
This happened just a few days after US forces launched air strikes on the headquarters of the Hezbollah Brigades, on both sides of the border between Syria and Iraq. This came in response to missile attacks on coalition bases. At least 25 members of this group were killed in these strikes.
Their funerals turned into a major demonstration against the United States, and mourners attacked the American embassy in Baghdad. A drone attack across all red lines.
Anger spread among the groups about the American moves that had nothing to do with its mission to defeat ISIS, and the politicians and groups demanded that the American forces leave the Iraqi lands immediately.
But the coalition forces hope to begin what they say are the last stages of military operations against the organization, with its Iraqi allies soon.
This uncertainty is what makes leaders on both sides reluctant to speak to the media about this, especially as politicians may contradict them the next day.
A senior coalition official who worked in Iraq several times during the campaign against the organization, and worked closely with senior Iraqi leaders, told me, "Our team looks forward to and believes in the mission, we believe in the Iraqi people, and we believe in the Iraqi security forces."
This official used to meet his Iraqi counterpart almost daily to drink tea together, but since the last attack, their relationship has become more formal.
The Iraqi security forces feel stuck amid a political crisis between Iran and the United States.
"This is not our problem, it is not even a military problem. There is a crisis between Iran and the United States and they put us in the middle between them," said Major General Tahsin al-Khafaji, a spokesman for the Joint Operations Command in Iraq.
My message is addressed to both countries: Do not bring your problems here.
The Iraqi army says that the cessation of coalition support in the wake of the death of General Soleimani left them with no other option but to continue the operation against ISIS themselves.
"For the first time, we launched our F-16s to launch air strikes on the organization," says al-Khafaji.
"It is true that we can fight on our own, but we are still looking to work with the coalition if political issues permit."
At the moment, everything is swinging in the balance. The nature of the threats facing American forces from ISIS has turned into something completely different.
And the American pilot Alejandro Pina, who was sent to Iraq only two months ago, has the last word in this regard.
“When they were appointed here, I thought I was coming to fight the organization, but after only two months I realized that it was not only the organization, but there were others as well.” End 29 / A 43